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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice

A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Sample Dropout Intervention Program


Background: The School Transitional Environment Project (STEP) is designed to enhance the experience of students during school transitions by restructuring the school environment. STEP was created in 1989 by researchers at the University of Illinois and was funded in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Intervention Description: STEP is a model designed to ease students’ school transitions and enhance healthy school adjustment by providing a supportive environment. Fundamental elements of the program include developing students’ perceptions of school as a safe, cohesive, and well organized environment in which to learn and grow. Strategies are also employed to reduce student anonymity, increase student accountability, and clarify students’ understanding of school rules and expectations. These key features are implemented through the homeroom teacher’s interaction with the students and their families.

Students in this program are assigned to student cohort groups, each of which has a homeroom teacher. These cohorts remain together for homeroom as well as core classes (e.g., mathematics, English). Cohort classrooms are purposely grouped together in the larger school in an effort to create a feeling of community and to decrease the likelihood that participating students will engage in conflicts with older students. Homeroom teachers take on the roles of teacher, counselor, and administrator in their relations with the students. These teachers keep track of attendance and follow up with parents about any absences. They also talk with students in their homerooms about class schedules and any personal problems the students may be having.

Homeroom teachers also are responsible for working with students’ families, explaining STEP, following up with parents concerning absences, and enhancing communication between families and the school. Teachers also meet with other homeroom teachers to discuss potential student problems as well as students who may need counseling or extra attention.

Participants & Setting: The STEP model, originally created for use in urban high school populations, has since been used in both rural and suburban communities. The original targeted population was of low socioeconomic status (SES), but the model has since been expanded to include all SES levels. The model has also been implemented for transition to junior high and middle school settings. Students who are considered to be well-suited for the STEP program are those who are considered to be at-risk for behavioral problems and who reside in communities that have large junior or senior high schools with multiple feeder schools. STEP has been used in urban, suburban, and rural settings.

Implementation Considerations: Teachers provide the majority of the support for students in STEP. Homeroom teachers are assigned to 20-30 STEP students and serve as the primary link between home, student, and school. These teachers perform many of the guidance and administrative tasks such as helping students select classes and talking with students about personal problems. STEP homeroom teachers meet several times a week to discuss students who may be having problems and other concerns arising in their classrooms. They also consult with school guidance staff and attend trainings for team-building and to improve their student advisory skills.

Cost: Implementation costs are relatively low. Costs for this program include required training for homeroom teachers to enable them to perform the expanded job roles of STEP. Other potential costs include staff salaries that may need to be adjusted to reflect teachers’ new job roles.

Evidence of Effectiveness: Four research studies on STEP are described below. Overall, outcomes indicated that STEP students had increased positive feelings toward the school environment and better school performance than non-STEP students.

The original study was conducted in a large, urban high school in which students who participated in the program were generally from low SES and/or minority backgrounds. Results showed STEP aided short-term social and academic adjustment as well as promoting academic performance, attendance, and self-concept. STEP students perceived the school environment as more stable, understandable, and well-organized than the non-STEP students.

A follow-up study was undertaken five years later. Students’ school records were utilized to obtain information regarding their progress following the program. Students who participated in STEP showed long-lasting effects in the area of improved academic achievement and improved attendance. This study also showed that students who had been involved in STEP were less likely to have dropped out of school than a comparison group of non-STEP students.

A third study employed the STEP model in two high schools and three junior high schools serving rural and urban populations. The SES of these communities was predominantly lower to middle class. This study expanded the scope of outcomes by looking at indices of depression, self-concept, delinquency, substance abuse, grades, and achievement test scores. Researchers found that STEP students were more likely to avoid significant declines in grades and self-concept and were less likely than control students to exhibit behavioral/emotional problems.

The fourth study was a two-year longitudinal effort examining outcomes for students entering high school as well as those entering junior high school. The schools in the study represented a wide range of geographic, demographic, and structural characteristics. No students receiving special education services were included in this study. Results indicated students who participated in the intervention appeared better adjusted and showed improved academic performance compared to non-STEP students. The STEP students reported lower feelings of transition stress as well as better adjustment in relation to school and family and on measures of overall self-esteem. Indices of depression, anxiety, and delinquent behavior were also lower for STEP students. Grades and attendance for STEP students were higher than for non-STEP participants.

Manual or Training Available: No information was identified in the available material.


Felner, R. D., Brand, S., Adan, A. M., Mulhall, P. F., Flowers, N., Sartain, B., & DuBois, D. L. (1993). Restructuring the ecology of the school as an approach to prevention during school transitions: Longitudinal follow-ups and extensions for the School Transitional Environment Project (STEP). Prevention in Human Services, 10(2), 103-136.

Contact Information:

Robert D. Felner, Ph.D.
Professor and Dean
College of Education and Human Development
ED 126D
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY 40292
Phone: 502-852-3235
E-mail: r.felner@louisville.edu

Table of Contents

Cover Page

Introduction & Getting Started

Part I: What Do We Know About Dropout Prevention?

Part II: How Were Sample Intervention Programs Selected?

  • The Need for Examples of Effective Interventions
  • Search Process & Initial Criteria
  • Raising the Bar
  • Final Parameters for Selection
  • Abstracts: Coding & Definitions

Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?

Part IV: Where Else Can I Go for More Information?

  • Related Resources & Organizations
  • Journal Articles & Related Publications
  • Web Sites Providing Data on Dropout Rates

Appendix: Reproducible Handouts on Dropout Prevention


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Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D. R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.

Permission is granted to duplicate this publication in its entirety or portions thereof. Upon request, this publication will be made available in alternative formats. For additional copies of this publication, or to request an alternate format, please contact: Institute on Community Integration Publications Office, 109 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, (612) 624-4512, icipub@umn.edu.

This document was published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET). NCSET is supported through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Department of Education Programs, and no official endorsement should be inferred. The University of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition are equal opportunity employers and educators.